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RUSSIA

Russian fury at Swedes over occupation series

UDATED: Russia has slammed Sweden for broadcasting a television series about Russia's fictional takeover of one of Sweden's Nordic neighbours, saying it has had enough of being portrayed as an aggressor.

Russian fury at Swedes over occupation series
A press image of TV series 'Occupied'. Photo: Aksel Jermstad/Yellow Bird

The drama 'Ockupationen' ('Occupied', or 'Okkupert' in Norwegian) follows Norway's occupation by the Russian army after a radical environmental party is voted into power and halts all oil and gas production.

Made in collaboration with Yellow Bird, the Swedish production studio behind the Wallander detective series and the Millennium films, it aired for the first time in Sweden this week.

And not everyone is a fan of one of Scandinavia's most recent drama hits.

In a strongly worded statement on its Facebook page, the Russian Embassy in Stockholm writes that “although the author of an artwork enjoy artistic freedom, this must not promote various forms of fear and instilling anti-Russian myths and prejudices”.

It continues that it “hopes that an inquisitive and demanding Swedish viewer who knows their historical realities will give an adequate rating to the attempt to paint Russia as some kind of mean and dangerous neighbour”.

The television series, originally conceived by Nordic Noir writer Jo Nesbø, first sparked a stir last summer, when the trailer was released in Norway. Russia then protested the decision to paint it “as the aggressor” and accused it of intimidating Scandinavian viewers “with a non-existent threat from the East”.

Sweden's state broadcaster SVT said it had expected that launching the series in Sweden would draw criticism, but defended its decision in a comment to the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

“The series consists of infinitely much more. This is a fictional depiction of a possible future scenario, where the EU is experiencing a crisis and how it affects all countries. That type of story of course of course evokes both criticism and emotion and that's how it should be. Commenting on the state of affairs and inspiring debate is part of our mission,” drama head Christian Wikander said.

The series comes amid an uptick in tensions between Sweden and Russia, with Sweden's security services saying last month that it believes around a dozen of Russian diplomats and officials in the country are in fact operating as undercover agents. It concluded by reaffirming its stance that the biggest intelligence threat against Sweden comes from Russia.

However, the first episodes for the 10-part 'Ockupationen' were written by Nesbø back in 2008, long before Russia's annexation of Crimea made the idea of an invasion of the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, or northern Norway, suddenly feel very real to many Swedes.

While some of the plot ideas come from Nesbø’s original scripts, the final version was written by Kari Anne Lund and Erik Skjoldbjærg, the series’ director, who also shot the Hollywood film Prozac Nation. 

It is Norway’s most expensive TV series to date, costing well over twice the 36 million kroner budget of Mammon, the country’s last internationally exported TV drama, and follows the success of other Scandinavia Nordic Noir series, such as 'The Bridge' and 'The Killing'.

The latest spat between Russia and Sweden isn't the first linked to Swedish television. In 2009 the Russian embassy launched a scathing attack on broadcaster SVT after it featured a parody video of Russia during a Melodifestivalen (Sweden's prequel to Eurovision) show. The segment included gangsters, tanks, stacking dolls and women showing a lot of flesh.

MILITARY

Sweden steps up Baltic defence in ‘signal’ to Russia

Sweden's defence minister has said his country is carrying out military exercises in the Baltic Sea to 'send a signal' to countries including Russia.

Sweden steps up Baltic defence in 'signal' to Russia
Swedish troops on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Photo: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten/TT

The so-called “high readiness action” means the Swedish army, navy and air force are currently more visible in the southeastern and southern Baltic Sea and on the island of Gotland.

No details have been disclosed about the number of troops involved in the action.

Sweden is “sending a signal both to our Western partners and to the Russian side that we are prepared to defend Sweden's sovereignty,” Hultqvist told news agency TT.


Ground troops on Gotland. Photo: Bezhav Mahmoud/Försvarsmakten/TT

“There is currently extensive military activity in the Baltic Sea, conducted by Russian as well as Western players, on a scale the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War,” the Swedish Armed Forces' Commander of Joint Operations, Jan Thörnqvist, said in a statement.

“The exercise activities are more complex and have arisen more rapidly than before. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has caused global anxiety and uncertainty. Over all, the situation is more unstable and more difficult to predict,” Thörnqvist said.


A Visby-class corvette and two Jas Gripen jets in the air. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/Försvarsmakten/TT

Hultqvist said Sweden was also monitoring developments in Belarus “very closely”.

Non-Nato member Sweden, which has not been to war in two centuries and which slashed military spending at the end of the Cold War, reopened a garrison on Gotland in January 2018 amid concerns about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic.

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